Bethlehem hopes for better Christmas tourist season

The trickle of tourists is sometimes scarcely enough to fill a manger, let alone an inn.

But Bethlehem's Palestinians are hopeful that numbers will rise in the month before Christmas.

The traditional birthplace of Jesus was all but shuttered by the global health crisis last year -

Ravaging the tourism-dependent economy and leading some hoteliers to consider selling up.

Souvenir shop owner Fadi Bahnan is trying to stay optimistic.

"I would encourage everyone to come and visit the Holy Land, it's the time, it's the right time to come, okay. A lot of groups are coming, they are starting to come, everything is safe and we are ready, we are ready for that."

This year Israel has eased curbs on foreign tourists in time for Christmas.

"You know because of the COVID we couldn't travel but now we have.. God has let us travel here to Bethlehem and it's really special for us."

While grateful for the return of some foreign tourists and Christian Palestinians from the West Bank and Israel, it's still a far cry from the 3.5 million visitors who came in winter 2019.

Bethlehem's municipality scaled back the town's Christmas market last year and banned most spectators from the tree-lighting ceremony.

This year's celebration will proceed as normal on December 4th, with visitors asked to wear masks.

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